Are You Any Better Off?

Stop. Breathe. Again.

Good.

I am looking out on the ocean at Diamond Head, wiggling my toes in the sand. It is near sunset, and the tide has come up to my ankles. I look down towards surfers leaving the water and couples taking sunset-selfies. This is a nice beach. I think to myself.


Four years ago to the day, I stood on a beach one bright May morning not far from Diamond Head and thought the exact same thing, this is a nice beach. It was my first morning in Hawai‘i, and I had woken up early to go for a run. I explored my new surroundings, amazed that I had actually made the jump and moved here.

When I came to Honolulu in 2012, I had a whole host of reasons why I chose to leave Southern California:

  • I had never lived more than an hour from where I grew up, now was the time to leave.
  • I had never “adventured” after college the way I had wanted to.
  • I was young and figured,”if not now, when?”
  • It was time to ~let go of my stuff~

All of these things were true, in some form or another. Still, none of them were at the true root of why I left: at the time, I hated who I had become.

I don’t mean that in a terribly self-deprecating way, but I had made choices that were actively against the kind of woman I wanted to be. I stayed in relationships that left me feeling hurt, disrespected and jealous. I was selfish and deceitful, with the justification that I “deserved” certain moments of happiness in my life. I drank too much. I partied too hard. I was reacting moment-to-moment only seeking the next high of happiness or excitement because I was a “twentysomething” and that was my right, dammit.

So, I ran. It’s what I’m best at, after all. I didn’t ghost; I found a job and made plans and tried to make a place for myself, but I packed up my life and ran as far as I could. I stood on that beach, the morning of May 1st, 2012, hoping– as cheesy as it was– that it was also the dawn of some, elusive, better version of myself.

Four years later, to the day,  I am standing on a beach looking out at the ocean, facing that question head-on: Am I better off now than I was four years ago?


The tide tickles my calves as it comes up further. A breeze wraps itself around me and reminds me of the mantra I used a moment ago. I close my eyes.

Stop.

I think about the girl I was at twenty-four. I moved here and grew. What I didn’t fully realize was how much growth can and will sting. That it still involved choices I would come to shake my head at. Becoming “better” doesn’t protect you from getting hurt sometimes. It also doesn’t prevent you from hurting others. What I see now is that the depth we can hurt each other is matched only by our depth to love each other as well.

Breathe.

Four years later, I have a longer lens with which to look back on my life. Amid the tense and exciting moments, I take stock of the pauses, the silence. Sometimes all we need is a moment to move past our initial, irrational response.

On the cusp of reactionary implosion, our brain can kick in if we let it. It can read the situation, triage, and clarify what needs to happen next to move past this. The silence isn’t complacency. It’s the time where our mind took a moment to cement in the lesson or the story or the power we would need. It stores it deep inside ourselves, a reserve of strength and wisdom saved for the next time we need it.

Again.

The way we learn is cyclical. We come to understand something, we face it in a different context, and all we can hope is that we handle it with a little more grace than we did before

If anything, the scars we had from the last time should serve as a map we can read as we navigate through this current struggle. ‘I have been here before,’ we remind ourselves, ‘I will come out on the other side. I know what I need to do to get through this.’ We begin the familiar rituals we do to heal. We try to learn. We try to get better. We don’t always succeed, but maybe, just maybe, this time, it’s a little easier.

Good. 

I open my eyes. I look back at the ocean. I have run Diamond Head many times, but rarely stop to come down to the beach and take a moment to breathe. I look at my legs and feet in the water.

I see the scars on my body, I see the parts of myself that have already stretched like new skin over healing hurts. I see where I have grown. I see the wounds and the dark parts of myself that still need to heal. Maybe the difference, now, is that I see the shape and color of the work that will go into that growth.

In some ways, not much has changed. And yet, everything has changed.


An initial version of this included the following passage from Cheryl Strayed’s Wild, and I felt compelled to share it still. It’s one of my favorite books. I highly recommend it. 

But as I wrote his name now, I knew I was doing it for the last time. I didn’t want to hurt for him anymore, to wonder whether in leaving him I’d made a mistake, to torment myself with all the ways I’d wronged him.

What if I forgave myself? I thought. What if I forgave myself even though I’d done something I shouldn’t  have? What if I was a liar and a cheat and there was no excuse for what I’d done other than because it was what I wanted and needed to do? What if I was sorry, but if I could go back in time I wouldn’t do anything differently than I had done? What if I’d actually wanted to fuck every one of those men? What if heroin taught me something? What if yes was the right answer instead of no? What if what made me do all those things everyone thought I shouldn’t have done was what also had got me here? What if I was never redeemed? What if I already was?

– Strayed, Cheryl (2012-03-20). Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail (Oprah’s Book Club 2.0 1) (p. 258). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

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Everything is on Fire (and That’s Okay)

It’s been over three weeks since I’ve written anything that is both personal and publishable. I keep opening the page, seeing the white box and the blinking cursor and drawing  a blank.

How do I put down what it means to systematically dismantle a life?

Not in an overly-dramatic way. Unlike my early twenties, it lacks the flair of simply setting the thing on fire and watching the flames dance in the sky. No, this has been a slow, methodical sort of burn. It’s the kind you chose to set aflame to save everything else.

It’s understanding that you need to set down your armor– there is no fight to win now. It’s removing and reimagining the parts of yourself you were so sure you knew, then realized had become foreign when you looked in the mirror. It’s knowing that you can’t use tape and glue anymore, you simply have to appreciate what was built and move on. It’s seeing that everything is on fire, but maybe that’s okay. Sometimes you have to let things burn so new things can grow.

What does it mean to rebuild a body?

How do I explain what it signified to stand alone in my room and hear only my own heartbeat? Is there a name for the tension that exists at the corner of “absolutely terrified” and “utterly excited”? I haven’t yet found language to explain what it means to know that the next few steps of your life will be frightening and difficult, but that you don’t regret them for a moment. It’s unstitching the parts of yourself you were sure were dead, only to find there is still life there and that it is blooming in spades.

There is a unique mixture of grief, fear, joy, terror, and wonder that comes from running your hands down your own body, grabbing the flesh of your hips beneath your own hands and being able to whisper, “This is mine now, only mine now,” in small, sanctified breaths; the prayer of your own newfound path ritually running through your mind.

How do you talk about rediscovery?

IMG_9688Not in the pop-queen-country-belle-diva sort of way, but within the small, undefined moments you had forgotten too. The moments where you realized  you were at the mercy of only your own whims; the simple, everyday decisions where you only have to ask, “What do I want?” I am searching for the couplets that could explain the simple pleasures of small choices. I am seeking stanzas that explain the joy of newfound agency.

The discovery is a montage, flashes of light shot through my heart: bursting into laughter on a hike, catching my breath in open ocean,  a heavy sigh of satisfied relief at the end of a long day; all the images reveal the mini-epiphany of, “Oh! That’s who I am!” and are full of a sense of wonder I thought I had lost long ago.

Is there a word for the moment between falling and flying?

I haven’t found one yet, something that properly captures the silver second where the sheer ridiculousness of what you are doing becomes perfectly clear. It’s elation and fear. It’s passionate and sensual and make-your-stomach-drop terrifying. It’s the silence in your ears before going down the big hill on a roller coaster; it’s sharp intake of breath before you hit the water from the cliff you just jumped off of.

It’s the knowledge that you cannot go back, that what lies forward is completely unknown, but that the horizon out there is full so much potential you can’t help but just start giggling like a kid seeing the ocean for the first time.

It is wild and unfettered and chaotic and perfect.